A Dose of Hopeful Perspective

Leading climate expert outlines the transformation to a sustainable future.

At Green Builder Media’s 8th annual Sustainability Symposium 2024: Existential Solutions, John Creyts, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), offered a rousing presentation about how massive system change is underway, driven by shifting economic dynamics.

“We’re on a race between climate and economic tipping points,” he asserted.  “On one hand, climate change is undeniable—we have already hit the 1.5 Celsius warming threshold.  However, at the same time, we’re reaching market-driven, economic tipping points faster than expected as climate solutions like renewable energy, electric vehicles (EVs), heat pumps, battery storage, and other advanced technologies are scaling more rapidly than most analysts thought possible.”

Jon Creyts at GBM_April 2024-8

Creyts pointed to the rapidly falling costs of renewable energy like onshore wind, offshore wind, and solar, which have dropped 60 percent, 70 percent, and 76 percent respectively in the last decade.  

Jon Creyts at GBM_April 2024-10

He also affirmed that, “As demand for EVs increases, we can expect to see the end of the internal combustion engine (ICE).  In fact, ICE sales peaked already a few years back and will continue its rapid decline the coming decade. This shift in demand is being driven by a combination of falling prices, growing consumer demand, and ratcheting policy, as well as by the car brands themselves, who are reinventing themselves as fully electric.”

Jon Creyts at GBM_April 2024-13

The surge in EV adoption is only part of a larger story about the meteoric the rise of battery storage, Creyts stated. “Battery costs are plunging due to economies of scale and innovation, and quality continues to rapidly improve, the combination of which is causing battery sales to skyrocket.”

Jon Creyts at GBM_April 2024-15

According to Creyts, Chinese costs and deployment should be our frame of reference.  “To compete for the industries of the future, the U.S. and Europe will have to solve barriers to change like grids and regulations.  Those barriers to change are effectively barriers to geopolitical power.”  

Creyts reminded us that the leaders of the next energy economy have yet to be determined, and that we continue to underestimate the pace of technology adoption.  “Change is happening exponentially, not linearly,” he insisted.

He also emphasized that the Global South will be a major driver for climate solutions.  “Global South countries have the opportunity to avoid the costs and risks and externalities of legacy fossil fuel systems and quickly deploy and distribute the benefits of renewable technologies,” he avowed.  “They are less hampered by incumbent infrastructure, and they can immediately get it right.” 

Creyts identified four key trends that will revolutionize the energy landscape in the coming decades: 

  1. Efficiency
  2. Peaking fossil fuels
  3. Exponential growth of clean energy technologies
  4. A just transition to a fair, inclusive system that leaves no one behind

“While we have focused on clean growth so far, efficiency has been an important driver of pollution reduction historically, and will remain so into the future,” Creyts said. “Together, the combination of efficiency and clean energy deployment work together to squeeze out fossil fuel demand, causing its use to peak and then decline, and keeping 1.5C within reach.   Implementing this transition in a just and equitable way at a local level will be essential – if we don’t all cross the finish line together, we lose.”

Jon Creyts at GBM_April 2024-21

In conclusion, Creyts reminded us that the pace of change is up to us.  “If we keep believing in in a slow, linear transition, and plan and invest against that, we will indeed get a slow transition.  But if we see the potential of exponential change, and realize we can use economic tipping points to counter climate tipping points, we have a fighting chance.”

Certainly, Creyts’ session, chock-full with compelling charts, graphs and imagery, made a convincing case for market-driven economic transformation, offering hope and optimism—even on an overheating planet.  

Didn’t get to see the live presentation? Don’t fret! You can view the recorded session here.

Need an infusion of inspiration? Check out the full playlist of Sustainability Symposium 2024 presentations. 

A heartfelt thank you to Trane Technologies and Whirlpool Corporation for their continued support of our annual Sustainability Symposium, as well as their total commitment to corporate sustainability.